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It was my first day of high school- a public high school in Chicago. As I pushed past the sea of people bustling past me to get to my classroom, I felt like a buoy being tossed back and forth by the high tide. Three months prior, I graduated from a private Christian academy where diversity was defined by shades of blonde – bleach, strawberry, or dirty. At my new high school, however, blonde gave way to an array of skin tones, religious beliefs, and cultures. I treaded through the hallways and my sea-blue eyes widened as I heard unknown words in unfamiliar accents ping-ponged back at forth. My eyes continued to widen in awe as they caught a glimpse of something especially unusual: a girl with a scarf covering her hair. “It’s a hot day in September,” I reasoned. “Why in the world is she wearing a scarf?”
My inner conversation was silenced as the late bell rang for first period; I walked through the classroom doors to once again encounter “scarf girl.” My teacher droned on about how “x” is an “apple” and how “y” is a “banana” and that we should never make “fruit salad,” but algebraic fruit salad was the least of my worries; my focus was across the room. “Does she wear that at home? Does she have different colored ones? How does she style her hair?” Bursting with the curiosity of a thousand questions, I eventually mustered enough courage to ask her the question that had been itching inside of me: “Sheena…do you wear that… in the shower?”
When I reminisce about this initial encounter with diversity, I realize what a sheltered, restricted world I lived in before high school. Today, the wonders of diversity embrace me each day as I walk through the doors of the high school I have grown to call home. I have gained an appreciation for Wu Long, the dragon dance that I have watched Zhu Jian-Wen perfect over the past four years. When I get tired of the insipid Scandinavian cuisine my family is accustomed to, I can rely on María and Juan to treat me to fritada or elotes. Dzana and Emin are always nearby to scold me when I incorrectly refer to Eastern Europe as Yugoslavia in history class. The people closest to me have proven to be my most important teachers; they have taught me lessons and exposed me to ideas that would otherwise be foreign to me. These “teachers” have educated me in ways that are too significant for any text book to deliver or for any standardized test to measure. These lessons of coexistence, acceptance, and understanding will be the ones I carry with me for the rest of my education and the rest of my life.
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